Behold the new poster boy for Canadian tourism—Donald Trump. As his presidency continues to be dominated by unconstitutional travel bans and investigations into potential obstructions of justice, international travellers are increasingly voting with their feet and opting for destinations other than the U.S.
That means potentially millions of tourists—and their wallets—could be lured north of the 49th parallel.
According to ForwardKeys, a Spain-based company that predicts future travel patterns, long-haul destination plans around the world for June, July and August are up 6.4 per cent over a year ago but down 3.5 per cent for the U.S. Some of the most popular destinations are the U.K., where bookings are up 18 per cent, Spain (13 per cent), France (7.3 per cent), Italy (6.8 per cent) and Thailand (3.2 per cent). And while Trump has been targeting Mexico on numerous fronts, Canada has made it easier for Mexicans to visit the Great White North, having announced visa-free travel last summer. As a result, Mexican tourism to Canada has jumped 16 per cent.
Lorraine Sileo, New York-based senior vice-president of research at Phocuswright, a travel research firm, said Canada has three things that today’s travellers are looking for—a sense of safety, cleanliness and natural beauty. It’s up to tourism associations and the attractions themselves to work together to market all of those assets. “It is a match,” she said. “The Canadian dollar is a bargain. You want people saying, ‘we should be going to Canada because our dollar is going to be stretched.’ That’s an opportunity right there. You should continue to focus on safety, political stability and all the mountains, lakes and forests. You are a relatively safe haven with all those beautiful backdrops for selfies,” she said.
Jonathan Potts, executive director of marketing and communications for Tourism Saskatchewan, makes no apologies for the lack of mountains in the province and said the unpopularity of Trump is just another reason why many Americans are crossing the border and many Canadians are not. “It’s one more factor that makes Canada and Saskatchewan desirable destinations. I don’t think there has ever been a presidency that has had this effect (on tourism) or a political decision (the travel ban) that has impacted people’s perceptions like they have been now,” he said.
Just how much tourism in Saskatchewan could grow remains to be seen but it’s already a $2.1-billion industry employing 65,000 people either directly or indirectly, which is more than 10 per cent of the province’s working population. A strong U.S. economy plays a significant role in attracting big-spending anglers and hunters to camps in northern Saskatchewan, Potts said. “They’re motivated by their own consumer confidence and how their pocketbooks are looking. Most of the outfitters, the fishing and hunting camps, price in American dollars. Whether the (Canadian dollar) goes up or down, to an American, it looks the same,” he said.
The U.S. tourism industry is far from reaching the panic stage where it’s having to offer smoking-hot deals to entice Canadians over the 49th parallel, but Sileo said many players are concerned nonetheless. “They’re trying to turn the perceptions around. It’s not just that (travellers) don’t like the (Trump) administration, but (people are afraid) of guns, too. We just have to make it not any more difficult for travellers to come here,” she said.